Quartz can be pretty polarizing. Not many mechanical watch purists can get behind battery-powered movements, but love it or hate it, quartz is a major part of watchmaking history and the Beta 21 is definitely worth discussing. Longtime readers might remember a little thing Jack and I put together called “Quartz Week,” a series of stories dedicated to all things quartz. Quartz Week was not exactly well-received (who knew!), but it was certainly educational. One story I wrote was a list of the most collectible Beta 21 watches, and one of those watches was the Rolex reference 5100. I was fortunate enough to see one in the metal recently at Christie’s, as they have a white gold version coming up for auction in Geneva on Monday.
First things first – the Beta 21 movement is awesome. While it is kind of a pain to actually maintain, it is a truly historical part of watchmaking that’s also just flat out fun. In case you don’t know what the Beta 21 is (no judgement), here is a brief history. The Beta 21 (1969) was the second iteration of the Beta 1 (1960), a quartz movement developed by the Centre Electronique Horologer (CEH), which was a group of 20 Swiss watch brands that were determined to make a reliable quartz movement that could in theory replace a manual or automatic movement. The main goal was for the caliber to be as accurate as possible, but alas, the results were not as great as the CEH had hoped. The Beta 21 was implemented in a range of wristwatches from the Patek Philippe reference 3587 to the IWC Da Vinci to a few strange Piaget models. But, for me, the Beta 21 is all about the Rolex reference 5100.